The Confident Rookie Series - SECRET TEN - What to say when you don't know the answer?

Education & Training with Sell with Soul

qA few weeks ago, my trainee came into my office all flustered. He'd been out with his buyers over the weekend and felt that he'd made a fool of himself by not being able to intelligently answer his buyers' questions. It almost sounded as if he was ready to throw in the towel - at least until he knew more about what he was doing!

Calm down, I told him. First, trust that it will happen to you thru-out your career. Don't panic. Don't make stuff up, but don't panic.

I asked him what the questions were that he couldn't answer. And guess what? Most of the questions were really good ones - that is - chances are that even a more experienced agent wouldn't have known the answers either! But the problem with being new is that you don't know what you SHOULD know and so you figure you should know it all.

This is where not panicking comes in.

Take a deep breath and really think about the question. Is this something you should or could know?

For example, let's say you're showing lofts downtown and the buyer asks: "What are the pet restrictions in this building?" Well, unless you live in the building yourself or unless you make a habit of memorizing condo rules & regulations, you couldn't possibly know the answer. Or how about if a buyer asks you where the property lines are on a rural property? If you aren't the listing agent, this is probably not something you can accurately answer.

This doesn't mean it's not your job to get the answer - it is. But if you don't know the answer off the top of your head, it's okay!

So, how do you respond?

First, DO NOT use those tired old words "I don't know the answer, but I can certainly find out for you!" in that prissy, almost defensive voice. You know what I'm talking about don't you? That cheerful, oh-so-helpful voice that clearly tells your client that you don't have a clue, but wish you did?

Instead, try this. Relax, and VERY casually say "Hmmmm, I don't know. Lemme find out." Write it down, and move on.

Or, how about this? "Wow - I've never gotten that question before. I'm looking forward to finding out the answer!" Write it down, and move on.

Or, in the above scenarios when you're working with a buyer and he has questions about the property you're looking at, take control and call the listing agent immediately.  That will make a great impression on the buyer.

Of course, sometimes you'll be asked a question you should know the answer to and you don't. This is happening to me more often lately as I venture deeper into the world of foreclosures & short sales. My stock answer has become "Y'know, I should know the answer to that, but I don't. I'll find out for you." This somewhat self-deprecating approach seems to be working - at least - no one's fired me yet for saying it!


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Hope you enjoyed the Confident Rookie Series! Now... go get 'em!

  1. Know Your Systems
  2. Practice with Your Printer (sounds silly, I know)
  3. Preview, Preview, Preview
  4. Drive Your Route Ahead of Time
  5. Cheerfully Waste Your Time
  6. Find a Handyman
  7. Let Your Seller Prospect Do Most of the Talking
  8. Get Comfy with Your Commission
  9. Admit that You're New
  10. What to say when you don't know the answer
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Larry Bettag
Cherry Creek Mortgage Illinois Residential Mortgage License LMB #0005759 Cherry Creek Mortgage NMLS #: 3001 - Saint Charles, IL
Vice-President of National Production

Common sense 101.  Like it, but you're right.  So many people panic in that situation. It's so "old hat" for me, but that's b/c I have years behind me on it.  Good tips.

Apr 20, 2009 01:12 AM #1
SarahGray Lamm
Allen Tate Realtors Chapel Hill, NC 919-819-8199 - Chapel Hill, NC
Realtor - 100K Hours of NC Real Estate Experience

How about "Great question! I'm making notes and will get detailed answers to all of your questions before we sit down to evaluate this home for purchase! Keep asking whatever you think of and I'll keep writing!"

Apr 20, 2009 01:16 AM #2
Jennifer Allan-Hagedorn
Sell with Soul - Pensacola Beach, FL
Author of Sell with Soul

Larry - it's much easier for us Old Fogies not to panic when asked a question we can't answer. But for rookies, this can be very stressful!

Sarah - That's a great one!

Apr 20, 2009 01:18 AM #3
Marcus Valdez
Berkshire Hathaway Rocky Mountain Realtors - Fort Collins, CO

None of us know all the answers. Just when you think you might have a good grasp on for market it will change.

Apr 20, 2009 01:30 AM #4
Chuck Carstensen
RE/MAX Results - Elk River, MN
Minnesota Real Estate Expert

I remember when I was a rookie and when I got questions I did not know I was very stressed. These all work well.

Apr 20, 2009 01:32 AM #5
Robert Rauf
HomeBridge Financial Services (NJ) - Toms River, NJ

Good Morning Jennifer!  I discovered this way back in the 80's when I first started in the Mortgage Biz.  Fannie Mae Guidelines looked like phone books... (that was before Al Gore invented the internet)... I did not know the answer to a question and I called a Fannie Underwriter, and they did not know the answer and got back to me.  A little lightbulb went off over my head and had an "aaaa HA" moment.  It was ok to NOT know everything!  (as long as you got the answer as quickly as you could, and knew where to go get the answer)

I always hate the people that have the knee jerk reaction to answer without knowing.  better to say you dont know but will find out!

Apr 20, 2009 01:36 AM #6
Jennifer Allan-Hagedorn
Sell with Soul - Pensacola Beach, FL
Author of Sell with Soul

Rob - that's a great point. Often I have a question that I feel dumb about asking and lo and behold... the person I ask doesn't know either!

Chuck - What scares me are those rookies who don't know the answers and don't seem to care! They just make it up...

Marcus - I know, frustrating, isn't it???

Apr 20, 2009 01:52 AM #7
Lisa Hill
Florida Property Experts - Daytona Beach, FL
Daytona Beach Real Estate

I think you have to say you don't know, in whatever way is most natural for you. Any time an agent (or anyone in sales) tries to follow a canned speech, that's when it comes across as fake, and untrustworthy. I'm not disagreeing with you in any way. It's more difficult for new agents because they're already nervous. But with time and experience it all comes more naturally... until the market throws the next curve ball and we're ALL floundering for the right words! LOL

Apr 20, 2009 10:13 AM #8
Mesa, Arizona Real Estate Mesa Arizona Realtor
Homes Arizona Real Estate LLC - Mesa, AZ

Jennifer, I am always willing to say I don't know. Depends on what it's about, and then move on from there. ;-)

Apr 20, 2009 04:43 PM #9
Kelsey Barklow
Hurd Realty - Johnson City, TN

Great answers to those questions. They don't even call attention to "green agent" status and I don't mean Earth Day! Thanks for your great posts.

Apr 24, 2009 04:59 AM #10
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